DeKALB – As DeKalb School District 428 braces for a wave of retirements and other employee exits expected at the end of this school year, the school board will soon vote on whether to add a sign-on bonus to incentivize hiring in the district as Illinois’ teacher shortage continues.
Sarah Abate, District 428 director of human resources, presented the board with the proposal Tuesday, which would set aside $100,000 to give new hires a sign-on bonus of up to 5% of their base salary.
“We’re here, we’ve been talking about shortages all over the country,” Abate said. “This is very real to us. I think we are really going to feel it this year. It’s going to be a challenge to get qualified candidates here in DeKalb.”
Abate’s proposal would address 30 expected retirements, along with other expected resignations and regular employee turnover. She said many positions are also ones that are already hard to fill because they require a specific skill set and certification, such as a speech and language pathologist or school psychologists.
The district expects the sign-on bonus to be $2,100 to $3,300, depending on the amount of experience the candidates brings to the table and level of education, documents show.
The bonus would not only encourage people to work for the district, but it would also help retention efforts, documents show. Those who signed an employment contract with the district would receive the 5% bonus and then, per their contract, agree to work at least four years with District 428. If they leave early, either voluntarily or are terminated, they would have to repay the district a prorated portion of the bonus.
Superintendent Jamie Craven said District 428 has “arrived at that storm” of the teacher shortage crisis facing other districts across the county. He said additional factors not yet on the table could also help retention efforts, such as paying student teachers a stipend.
“I’m not suggesting we go there,” Craven said. “But the number of student teachers we end up hiring is a pretty high rate, and if we get them with us then many of them get hired.”
Abate said another element to the plan, which was formulated by the district’s recruitment committee, is to shorten the timeline for recruiting.
“In an effort to get ahead of this curve, we’ve greatly adjusted our timeline for recruiting,” Abate said, adding that most recruiting in the past doesn’t start until the spring. “We’re starting right now in October because we know these positions are going to need to be filled. So we can get ahead of the December graduation and spring circuit.”
Board member Valerie Pena-Hernandez, who is also on the recruitment committee, said she’s “all for it.”
“This wasn’t something that was taken lightly,” she said. “This is the reality. These are hard to fill positions. So District 428 needs to do what is needs to do in order to have these employees in these hard to fill roles.”
Not all board members were in support, though. Jeromy Olson said he was doubtful the district would be able to enforce the repayment plan if employees chose to leave before the four-year contracted period.
“Just as an employer, I’m telling you you’re not going to go after these people because it’s going to be too costly for that amount of money,” Olson said, adding he thinks the scenario would go to collections agencies. “I just don’t like the idea. This contract is kind of meaningless in my opinion only because we’re never going to go out and sue a former employee for $2,000.”